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Are Down Jackets Waterproof? Water Resistant?

Attractive woman in blue down jacket blows snowflakes in a snow.

Generally speaking, down jackets are usually either waterproof or water-resistant as they are made for colder and wetter climates or temperatures. They are ideal garments in the winter because they have a unique texture that offers greater warmth and traps heat inside the coat. This keeps you warm in cooler temperatures.

These coats will also keep you dry, most of the time, but it’s not the down that will do that. It is the coating on the fabric of the coats that does that. If you want a coat that is either waterproof or water-resistant, a down jacket is an excellent choice.

Learn more about down jackets and their waterproof and water-resistant levels here.

The Down Jacket

A down jacket is a coat that is filled with the down feathers of geese or ducks. It is an incredibly soft feather that provides both fluffiness and warmth to winter coats. Inside a down coat are pockets or bubbles that are filled with down feathers.

When the down is piled together, it creates a large number of tiny pockets that retain heat by trapping air. This is one way the jacket helps you stay warm. Sometimes down is either duck or goose, but sometimes it is a combination of the two.

Down can be a very expensive feather to get to fill a coat, so often a combination of feathers will provide the exact same effect.

Man holding firewood with down jacket.

The Difference Between Waterproof and Water-Resistant

The difference between waterproof and water-resistant is that waterproofing offers a nearly impermeable barrier to what is inside the coat. Water-resistant fabric is a fabric that offers some protection from moisture and wet precipitation. In water resistance, the water will bounce off, or dry quickly.

In a waterproof fabric, the water or snow does bounce off, and can barely get in. That doesn’t happen with water resistance. In water-resistant materials, water can be avoided, but only up to a certain point.

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Waterproofing, on the other hand, offers a much more secure seal when it comes to keeping moisture out. Down jackets are made with both waterproofing and water-resistant materials. You will have to check the labels or with the garment’s manufacturers to learn what materials the coat you are interested in are.

You may also see waterproof or water-resistant notes on the labels.

The Fill Power of Down

Yes, it is true that ducks and geese like their water, and this should make the coats more waterproof, and there are people that think that it does. But the down in a down coat is inside the coat, and not on the outside. And, it needs to be treated very carefully for washing, or the feathers in the coat will change and the coat just won’t be the same.

Cue the fill power of down. This does not contribute to its waterproof levels or its water resistance, but it does contribute to the warmth of the jacket. When a jacket is made with down, it is made with down fill power.

This is a quantitative measure of the down jacket. A jacket with a higher down fill power is going to be a warmer jacket and of higher quality. This number is calculated by determining the number of cubic inches per ounce of down.

One ounce of down will be compressed and how it bounces back is its fill power. A good down will bounce back quickly and easily. So, you’ll find a jacket with a higher fill power as one that is lighter and feels airier.

But it will actually be warmer. It isn’t about how much down is in the jacket, but the quality of the down fill power, and this bounce effect. A down jacket that has 900 fill power but 50 grams of down will not be warmer than a jacket with a lower fill power and more grams of down.

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It does matter when it comes to feeling warmer, although any down jacket is going to be a warm coat. Compared to synthetic fill in a coat, down has more advantages and practical purposes.

Down Jackets Vs. Synthetic Fill Jackets

When it comes to comparing down jackets versus synthetic fill jackets, down jackets are going to win more when it comes to warm. When it comes to waterproofing and water resistance, synthetic fabrics and fibers may have more of the upper hand. A down jacket is excellent when it comes to retaining heat, and is more lightweight than a synthetic fill jacket.

When a down jacket gets wet, however, its insulating ability is lost a little bit. It can take a very long time to dry out as well. For that reason, while there is such a thing as water-resistant and a waterproof down jacket, waterproof jackets are much more practical.

These jackets will offer seam-sealed construction to ensure that water does not get into the garment for any reason at all. Synthetic fill coats do offer that as well, but will not offer the same heavy and long drying time a down jacket will offer.

Black puffed men's down jacket.

The Waterproof Nature of Down Feathers

Although down fill can get clunkier and heavier when it is wet, that doesn’t mean it can’t be waterproof. The down used for down coats is two kinds of down. One is the outside feather of the bird, and the other is the inside under-layer of feathers on a bird.

That is called a bird’s plumage, and this is the most water-resistant type of feather to use in a down fill jacket. These feathers do for the bird what they do for us, they keep them warm and dry. For humans, on top of these down feathers is a waterproof coating or water-resistant coating.

In most down jackets, the pockets that the down goes into are also water-resistant. Polyester and nylon exteriors are very popular coatings or fabrics used for down jackets. Construction also plays a significant role in how waterproof or water-resistant a down jacket will be.

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Waterproof Construction Markers in Down Jackets

When you are looking for a down jacket that will be waterproof or water-resistant, there are certain things you can look for. One of them is the seam-filled concept or sewn-through concept where there are chambers in between seams. There is no additional fabric added to the seams here.

A heat seamed approach can also be used, and here the fabric is bonded together using a heating method. Chambers are also created here, but the stitching is not used in this method. This method can make the down jacket much more water-resistant, and also resistant to wind.

Young housewife looks on a down jacket before washing.

Washing a Down Jacket

Down jackets are special jackets and you will need to take special care of them. That is even more true if they are waterproofed or water-resistant. That is because over time, waterproofing and water resistance can break down in a garment.

You can reapply waterproof and water resistance coating on your down jacket to ensure it is well taken care of. Once a year is likely enough to do that unless you are wearing the jacket frequently and in harsh climates. When you are washing a down jacket, a good practice is to put two tennis balls in the washing machine so that the jacket doesn’t lose its shape.

A front-loaded machine is preferred because the wringer on a top loader is going to twist the jacket out of shape. The kind of detergent that you need should be for gentle fabrics, and you want to go easy on the detergent. The goal of the coat is to stay warm, and this happens when the down in the coat is fluffy and has a lot of air in it.

Keep your down jacket washing ritual in mind when you are washing your down jacket. After you have washed it, it would not hurt to use some DWR coating to add an extra layer of protection for water resistance.